Washington sent a message to Gov. Roy Cooper the other day: So you drowned. Not our problem. Dry yourself out. You’re on your own.
If this is the way the federal government is being remade, we’re all in trouble.
The message wasn’t quite in those blunt words, but intent was clear. When disaster strikes and states are working to rebuild – and seeking help on projects that will protect residents from similar damage in the future – the feds won’t be providing financial assistance.
Oh, the FEMA assistance to home and business owners is still in place, but the bigger grants apparently aren’t.
After consulting with three members of this state’s congressional delegation – two of them Republicans – Cooper submitted what he called a conservative request for funding, seeking more than $900 million in federal relief. The return offer from Washington: $6.1 million, less than 1 percent of what the governor requested.
On Wednesday, Cooper expressed “shock and disappointment” over the paltry offer of assistance. And he fired off a protest letter to President Donald Trump, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. If politics is an issue in this, we trust they know that this state voted for Trump and sent an overwhelmingly Republican delegation to Congress.
But politics shouldn’t be the issue. Federal disaster aid has always been dispensed with no regard to the political inclinations of the victims. We Americans have always taken care of each other. And Washington has always opened its checkbook. The quality of rescue efforts coordinated by federal agencies has been up and down over the years, but there’s never been a reticence to make victims whole again.
But now there apparently is.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Cooper said, “Families across Eastern North Carolina need help to rebuild and recover, and it is an incredible failure by the Trump administration and congressional leaders to turn their backs. Matthew was a historic storm and we are still working every day to help families return home and rebuild their communities.”
The state sought federal funding for a variety of projects, including:
–$434 million to buy out, elevate or rebuild nearly 4,000 properties that were flooded by Matthew and are at risk of repeated damage in future storms.
–$245 million to repair homes, including rental and public housing, as well as privately owned homes.
–Nearly $93 million for losses not covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including livestock, equipment and feed.
–$43 million to fix public facilities and improve storm drains and sewers.
–$39 million to help nearly 700 small businesses recover from flood damage.
–And $37 million for health and mental health services for storm survivors, as well as repairs to health care, child care and social services facilities.
Matthew caused serious damage in half of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Some, like Cumberland and Robeson, suffered hundreds of millions in damage. Recovery will be measured in years, not months.
After Hurricane Sandy caused massive flooding damage – especially in New York and New Jersey – in 2012, Washington poured billions of dollars into the recovery effort. To date, New York alone has gotten nearly $17 billion. We’ve heard no complaints that the recovery effort was a waste of money. Generosity in times of national disaster is a virtue that flows thick through American blood.
So how can it be that when North Carolina asks for less than a billion dollars in aid for its own flooding disaster, we’re offered only $6.1 million? We hope someone in Washington can provide a cogent explanation. Better yet, we hope someone in Washington reverses this terrible decision and sends the money that Gov. Cooper sought. We still need the help.